When to Do ER
The timing of your Economic Renewal effort is crucial to its success. Choosing the right time to start requires intuition and a knowledge of the inner workings of the community. In general, though, a community is probably ready to work toward bettering itself when one or more of the following conditions exist:
- Residents recognise that something must be done and no one else is doing it.
- A crisis (e.g., a natural disaster, closure of a major business) brings the community together.
- A few people have begun talking seriously about organising some effort to seek a better future. Where a few are acting, many others are thinking.
- One or more people are committed to take action.
It will be more difficult to conduct ER when there is: Overwhelming apathy or lack of recognition that something should be done. A belief that something is coming that will save the town: “We don’t need to do anything, we’ll just wait till…” A crisis so deeply divides the community that people on opposing sides of the issue can’t be in the same room together.
Though these are useful thoughts about timing, don’t regard them as rules. Many communities have achieved success despite apparently bad timing. Some have accomplished results even in the face of rampant controversy. Others that appeared to be drifting aimlessly have taken dramatic action to improve themselves. Even a relatively apathetic community can be galvanized to action by a few credible and assertive people. However, your effort will have the best potential for getting off to a good start when at least one influential resident is actively enthusiastic about the idea.
The Measure of ER’s Success
The outcome of the Economic Renewal process will be a few realistic projects chosen by participants–projects that will build toward a more sustainable future. Because many residents will have participated in selecting the projects, or at least followed and understood the process, they’ll feel some ownership in and commitment to them. To enhance community support and enthusiasm, participants will choose at least one project that can be implemented quickly and easily to achieve a short-term, measurable success.
Many community residents and leaders, especially those who participated, will better understand the community economy; they’ll be more comfortable with economic development. Participants will have experienced a genuinely collaborative process, which, if your community is like most, will be much more creative and less contentious than the usual ways of getting things done. They’ll better understand each other and be more willing to work together. This experience may lead to more effective decisions in the future.
Each community that has used Economic Renewal has created and chosen development ideas compatible with its particular circumstances. A few examples:
Alamosa, Colorado. Residents dramatically revitalized their downtown, launched alternative crop and fish-farming initiatives, started a community recreation program, conducted a business-needs analysis, planned a community/conference center, and instituted a flood-control program that saves $115,000 in insurance each year. Moreover, Economic Renewal “helped bring the town together” and “fired up the people,” according to town manager Mike Hackett.
- Kentucky. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development used Economic Renewal in three economically distressed counties. Participants selected a variety of development projects including a farmer’s market, a co-op art gallery, a tourism committee, a small-business assistance effort, a value-added wood products business, and downtown improvements.
- Plateau Valley, Colorado. Residents of this rural area started a local newspaper, upgraded their fairground, and inventoried historic structures. They’re now investigating alternative local crops.
- Snowflake, Arizona. Economic Renewal participants decided to support local business with a mentoring program, improve tourism by training local tour guides, and support local farmers with a co-op for specialty produce.
- Saskatchewan, Canada. Farmers built a value-added processing facility and started a marketing campaign for their organic products.
Some people may shrug off these successes as flukes, or assume that they resulted from some lucky break. However, though each received some help from the outside, these communities didn’t score any big government grants or industrial siteings, nor were they particularly lucky. They created their successes largely on their own.
Like you, the residents of these successful communities were trying to make a living and didn’t have a lot of time for meetings. But they balanced their commitment to their community with their family obligations, juggled their schedules, goaded their neighbours. After false starts and a few dead ends, they pulled it off.
These are ordinary folks who chose an extraordinary path, the steady and deliberate course to a sustainable future. It’s a path that’s yours for the taking. It relies on your understanding that a prosperous future for you, your children, and your grandchildren is based on stewardship of your community, its environment, and its economy. It starts with your commitment to act.
This is an update to my thinking and a revisit of those aspects of my life that fascinate me. I recognise totally that this comes from The Rocky Mountain Institute, http://www.rmi.org/Communities and I had the privilege of use some of these ideas in Leonora in developing their five year strategic plan.